Willpower doesn’t grow on trees.
She was planned. She was anticipated and wished for. It had been three years since our first child was born, and we felt like it was finally time to have a second. My husband and I were both thrilled when we found out that I was pregnant, but part way through the pregnancy my feelings of joy dissipated. I wasn’t excited anymore; in fact, I was positively depressed.
Her birth would coincide almost exactly with the release of my book, so this new little one would put a bit of a damper on the media appearances my publisher had planned. I knew that my opportunities to write would be few and far between with a toddler and a newborn swallowing up any excess time and energy. I mourned my freedom. I mourned my career. I mourned the loss of the skinny body I had obtained since my first was born.
I began to fear we had made a mistake. And the guilt I felt on the heels of that regret was pure misery.
One morning, I was horrified as I awoke from a dream that I had terminated the pregnancy—something I could never fathom choosing to do. After all, we wanted this baby. I wanted this baby… didn’t I? It was the timing that scared me, but I knew there was no perfect time to have a baby. I had discounted these feelings as nothing but jitters, but after waking from that dream I started to realize that something was very off. It was more than the new reality we were walking into, more than the usual pregnancy mood swings. I was depressed. I have experienced depression at other points in my life so I know it well. I Googled “depression during pregnancy” and quickly realized that I was not alone in this experience. Apparently, there was such a thing as “prenatal depression,” and apparently, I was experiencing it.
I shared my struggle with my husband, but neither of us really knew what to do. I knew I was in no danger of hurting myself, my baby, or anyone else, so I just decided to tough it out. And that worked okay for me. The second trimester was sheer misery. I barely dragged myself through those long days. But one morning in the third trimester, I woke up and realized that I felt a little better than I had the previous day, and the clouds gradually lifted until I once again was filled with anticipation. When my daughter was born I was immediately in love with her. I was the furthest thing from depressed. However, not every mom is so lucky, and the unfortunate thing is that we don’t hear much about prenatal depression. We hear lots about postpartum depression, what it looks like, how to treat it, why it’s important. But why is it that I had never heard about prenatal depression until I was in the thick of it?
Postpartum depression is widely discussed, and it occurs in around 15 percent of births. Prenatal depression is just as common, if not more so, but too often women are shushed into believing “it’s just hormones.” It may be hormones, but there’s no “just” about it.
According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), depression during pregnancy is something that 14 to 23 percent of expecting mothers face, and 13 percent of will be on antidepressants at some point in those forty long weeks. So it’s much more common than we might think, especially when we’re up to our ears in cute little baby clothes and baby showers and knowing smiles from random strangers. Pregnant women are supposed to “glow,” right? It’s hard to admit you have dark feelings when everyone expects you to be excited. But it happens. All the time.
And depression during pregnancy is not to be messed with. Not only is prenatal depression painful—sometimes debilitating—for the mother, but it also can impact the baby’s development.
“Infants born to women with depression have increased risk for irritability, less activity and attentiveness, and fewer facial expressions compared with those born to mothers without depression,” according to the ACOG. Fetal growth change and shorter gestation periods can also result from prenatal depression.
As logical as it may seem to struggle through the depression without subjecting your baby to antidepressants, and as embarrassing as it may be to admit that you’re not experiencing the joyful pregnancy you were expecting, talk to your doctor. Even if you feel like “it’s not that bad,” let a medical professional advise you. It’s not just your comfort on the line, it’s the safe development of your baby.